"And where do you come in?" inquired the stout man, descending.
"We were bicycling past, and I actually saw one fellow come head-first
through your pantry window. I think he got over the wall."
Here a breathless boy returned.
"Can't see anything of him," he gasped.
"It's true, then," remarked the crammer.
"Look at that door," said I.
But unfortunately the breathless boy looked also, and now he was being
joined by others equally short of wind.
"Where's Beefy?" he screamed. "What on earth's happened to Beefy?"
"My good boys," exclaimed the crammer, "will one of you be kind enough
to tell me what you've been doing, and what these gentlemen have been
doing for you? Come in all, before you get your death. I see lights
in the class-room, and more than lights. Can these be signs of a
"A very innocent one, sir," said a well set-up youth with more
moustache than I have yet.
"Well, Olphert, boys will be boys. Suppose you tell me what happened,
before we come to recriminations."
The bad old proverb was my first warning. I caught two of the youths
exchanging glances under raised eyebrows. Yet their stout, easy-going
mentor had given me such a reassuring glance of side-long humor, as
between man of the world and man of the world, that it was difficult to
suspect him of suspicion. I was nevertheless itching to be gone.
Young Olphert told his story with engaging candor. It was true that
they had come down for an hour's Nap and cigarettes; well, and there
was no denying that there was whiskey in the glasses. The boys were now
all back in their class-room, I think entirely for the sake of warmth;
but Raffles and I were in knickerbockers and Norfolk jackets, and very
naturally remained without, while the army-crammer (who wore bedroom
slippers) stood on the threshold, with an eye each way. The more I saw
of the man the better I liked and the more I feared him. His chief
annoyance thus far was that they had not called him when they heard the
noise, that they had dreamt of leaving him out of the fun. But he
seemed more hurt than angry about that.
"Well, sir," concluded Olphert, "we left old Beefy Smith hanging on to
his hand, and this gentleman with him, so perhaps he can tell us what
"I wish I could," I cried with all their eyes upon me, for I had had
time to think. "Some of you must have heard me say I'd fetch my friend
in from the road?"
"Yes, I did," piped an innocent from within.
"Well, and when I came back with him things were exactly as you see
them now. Evidently the man's strength was too much for the boy's; but
whether he ran upstairs or outside I know no more than you do."
"It wasn't like that boy to run either way," said the crammer, cocking
a clear blue eye on me.
"But if he gave chase!"
"It wasn't like him even to let go."
"I don't believe Beefy ever would," put in Olphert. "That's why we
gave him the billet."
"He may have followed him through the pantry window," I suggested
"But the door's shut," put in a boy.
"I'll have a look at it," said the crammer.
And the key no longer in the lock, and the insensible youth within!
The key would be missed, the door kicked in; nay, with the man's eye
still upon me, I thought I could smell the chloroform.
I thought I could hear a moan, and prepared for either any moment. And
how he did stare! I have detested blue eyes ever since, and blonde
moustaches, and the whole stout easy-going type that is not such a fool
as it looks. I had brazened it out with the boys, but the first grown
man was too many for me, and the blood ran out of my heart as though
there was no Raffles at my back. Indeed, I had forgotten him. I had
so longed to put this thing through by myself! Even in my extremity it
was almost a disappointment to me when his dear, cool voice fell like a
delicious draught upon my ears. But its effect upon the others is
more interesting to recall. Until now the crammer had the centre of
the stage, but at this point Raffles usurped a place which was always
his at will. People would wait for what he had to say, as these people
waited now for the simplest and most natural thing in the world.
"One moment!" he had begun.
"Well?" said the crammer, relieving me of his eyes at last.
"I don't want to lose any of the fun - "
"Nor must you," said the crammer, with emphasis.
"But we've left our bikes outside, and mine's a Beeston Humber,"
continued Raffles. "If you don't mind, we'll bring 'em in before these
fellows get away on them."
And out he went without a look to see the effect of his words, I after
him with a determined imitation of his self-control. But I would have
given something to turn round. I believe that for one moment the
shrewd instructor was taken in, but as I reached the steps I heard him
asking his pupils whether any of them had seen any bicycles outside.
That moment, however, made the difference. We were in the shrubbery,
Raffles with his electric torch drawn and blazing, when we heard the
kicking at the pantry door, and in the drive with our bicycles before
man and boys poured pell-mell down the steps.
We rushed our machines to the nearer gate, for both were shut, and we
got through and swung it home behind us in the nick of time. Even I
could mount before they could reopen the gate, which Raffles held
against them for half an instant with unnecessary gallantry. But he
would see me in front of him, and so it fell to me to lead the way.
Now, I have said that it was a very misty night (hence the whole
thing), and also that these houses were on a hill. But they were not
nearly on the top of the hill, and I did what I firmly believe that
almost everybody would have done in my place. Raffles, indeed, said he
would have done it himself, but that was his generosity, and he was the
one man who would not. What I did was to turn in the opposite
direction to the other gate, where we might so easily have been cut
off, and to pedal for my life - up-hill!
"My God!" I shouted when I found it out.
"Can you turn in your own length?" asked Raffles, following loyally.
"Then stick to it. You couldn't help it. But it's the devil of a
"And here they come!"
"Let them," said Raffles, and brandished his electric torch, our only
light as yet.
A hill seems endless in the dark, for you cannot see the end, and with
the patter of bare feet gaining on us, I thought this one could have no
end at all. Of course the boys could charge up it quicker than we
could pedal, but I even heard the voice of their stout instructor
growing louder through the mist.
"Oh, to think I've let you in for this!" I groaned, my head over the
handle-bars, every ounce of my weight first on one foot and then on the
other. I glanced at Raffles, and in the white light of his torch he
was doing it all with his ankles, exactly as though he had been riding
in a Gymkhana.
"It's the most sporting chase I was ever in," said he.
"All my fault!"
"My dear Bunny, I wouldn't have missed it for the world!"
Nor would he forge ahead of me, though he could have done so in a
moment, he who from his boyhood had done everything of the kind so
much better than anybody else. No, he must ride a wheel's length
behind me, and now we could not only hear the boys running, but
breathing also. And then of a sudden I saw Raffles on my right
striking with his torch; a face flew out of the darkness to meet the
thick glass bulb with the glowing wire enclosed; it was the face of the
boy Olphert, with his enviable moustache, but it vanished with the
crash of glass, and the naked wire thickened to the eye like a
tuning-fork struck red-hot.
I saw no more of that. One of them had crept up on my side also; as I
looked, hearing him pant, he was grabbing at my left handle, and I
nearly sent Raffles into the hedge by the sharp turn I took to the
right. His wheel's length saved him. But my boy could run, was
overhauling me again, seemed certain of me this time, when all at once
the Sunbeam ran easily; every ounce of my weight with either foot once
more, and I was over the crest of the hill, the gray road reeling out
from under me as I felt for my brake. I looked back at Raffles. He had
put up his feet. I screwed my head round still further, and there were
the boys in their pyjamas, their hands upon their knees, like so many
wicket-keepers, and a big man shaking his fist. There was a lamp-post
on the hill-top, and that was the last I saw.
We sailed down to the river, then on through Thames Ditton as far as
Esher Station, when we turned sharp to the right, and from the dark
stretch by Imber Court came to light in Molesey, and were soon
pedalling like gentlemen of leisure through Bushey Park, our lights
turned up, the broken torch put out and away. The big gates had long
been shut, but you can manoeuvre a bicycle through the others. We had
no further adventures on the way home, and our coffee was still warm
upon the hob.
"But I think it's an occasion for Sullivans," said Raffles, who now
kept them for such. "By all my gods, Bunny, it's been the most
sporting night we ever had in our lives! And do you know which was the
most sporting part of it?"
"That up-hill ride?"
"I wasn't thinking of it."
"Turning your torch into a truncheon?"
"My dear Bunny! A gallant lad - I hated hitting him."
"I know," I said. "The way you got us out of the house!"
"No, Bunny," said Raffles, blowing rings. "It came before that, you
sinner, and you know it!"
"You don't mean anything I did?" said I, self-consciously, for I began
to see that this was what he did mean. And now at latest it will also
be seen why this story has been told with undue and inexcusable gusto;
there is none other like it for me to tell; it is my one ewe-lamb in
all these annals. But Raffles had a ruder name for it.
"It was the Apotheosis of the Bunny," said he, but in a tone I never
"I hardly knew what I was doing or saying," I said. "The whole thing
was a fluke."
"Then," said Raffles, "it was the kind of fluke I always trusted you to
make when runs were wanted."
And he held out his dear old hand.
THE KNEES OF THE GODS
"The worst of this war," said Raffles, "is the way it puts a fellow off
It was, of course, the winter before last, and we had done nothing
dreadful since the early autumn. Undoubtedly the war was the cause.
Not that we were among the earlier victims of the fever. I took
disgracefully little interest in the Negotiations, while the Ultimatum
appealed to Raffles as a sporting flutter. Then we gave the whole
thing till Christmas. We still missed the cricket in the papers. But
one russet afternoon we were in Richmond, and a terrible type was
shouting himself hoarse with "'Eavy British lorsses - orful slorter o'
the Bo-wers! Orful slorter! Orful slorter! 'Eavy British lorsses!"
I thought the terrible type had invented it, but Raffles gave him more
than he asked, and then I held the bicycle while he tried to pronounce
Eland's Laagte. We were never again without our sheaf of evening
papers, and Raffles ordered three morning ones, and I gave up mine in
spite of its literary page. We became strategists. We knew exactly
what Buller was to do on landing, and, still better, what the other
Generals should have done. Our map was the best that could be
bought, with flags that deserved a better fate than standing still.
Raffles woke me to hear "The Absent-Minded Beggar" on the morning it
appeared; he was one of the first substantial subscribers to the fund.
By this time our dear landlady was more excited than we. To our
enthusiasm for Thomas she added a personal bitterness against the Wild
Boars, as she persisted in calling them, each time as though it were
the first. I could linger over our landlady's attitude in the whole
matter. That was her only joke about it, and the true humorist never
smiled at it herself. But you had only to say a syllable for a
venerable gentleman, declared by her to be at the bottom of it all, to
hear what she could do to him if she caught him. She could put him in
a cage and go on tour with him, and make him howl and dance for his
food like a debased bear before a fresh audience every day. Yet a more
kind-hearted woman I have never known. The war did not uplift our
landlady as it did her lodgers.
But presently it ceased to have that precise effect upon us. Bad was
being made worse and worse; and then came more than Englishmen could
endure in that black week across which the names of three African
villages are written forever in letters of blood. "All three pegs,"
groaned Raffles on the last morning of the week; "neck-and-crop,
neck-and-crop!" It was his first word of cricket since the beginning
of the war.
We were both depressed. Old school-fellows had fallen, and I know
Raffles envied them; he spoke so wistfully of such an end. To cheer him
up I proposed to break into one of the many more or less royal
residences in our neighborhood; a tough crib was what he needed; but I
will not trouble you with what he said to me. There was less crime in
England that winter than for years past; there was none at all in
Raffles. And yet there were those who could denounce the war!
So we went on for a few of those dark days, Raffles very glum and
grim, till one fine morning the Yeomanry idea put new heart into us
all. It struck me at once as the glorious scheme it was to prove,
but it did not hit me where it hit others. I was not a fox-hunter, and
the gentlemen of England would scarcely have owned me as one of them.
The case of Raffles was in that respect still more hopeless (he who
had even played for them at Lord's), and he seemed to feel it. He
would not speak to me all the morning; in the afternoon he went for a
walk alone. It was another man who came home, flourishing a small
bottle packed in white paper.
"Bunny," said he, "I never did lift my elbow; it's the one vice I never
had. It has taken me all these years to find my tipple, Bunny; but
here it is, my panacea, my elixir, my magic philtre!"
I thought he had been at it on the road, and asked him the name of the
"Look and see, Bunny."
And if it wasn't a bottle of ladies' hair-dye, warranted to change any
shade into the once fashionable yellow within a given number of
"What on earth," said I, "are you going to do with this?"
"Dye for my country," he cried, swelling. "Dulce et decorum est,
Bunny, my boy!"
"Do you mean that you are going to the front?"
"If I can without coming to it."
I looked at him as he stood in the firelight, straight as a dart, spare
but wiry, alert, laughing, flushed from his wintry walk; and as I
looked, all the years that I had known him, and more besides, slipped
from him in my eyes. I saw him captain of the eleven at school. I saw
him running with the muddy ball on days like this, running round the
other fifteen as a sheep-dog round a flock of sheep. He had his cap on
still, and but for the gray hairs underneath - but here I lost him in a
sudden mist. It was not sorrow at his going, for I did not mean to let
him go alone. It was enthusiasm, admiration, affection, and also, I
believe, a sudden regret that he had not always appealed to that part
of my nature to which he was appealing now. It was a little thrill of
penitence. Enough of it.
"I think it great of you," I said, and at first that was all.
How he laughed at me. He had had his innings; there was no better way
of getting out. He had scored off an African millionaire, the Players,
a Queensland Legislator, the Camorra, the late Lord Ernest Belville,
and again and again off Scotland Yard. What more could one man do in
one lifetime? And at the worst it was the death to die: no bed, no
doctor, no temperature - and Raffles stopped himself.
"No pinioning, no white cap," he added, "if you like that better."
"I don't like any of it," I cried, cordially; "you've simply got to
"To what?" he asked, a strange look on him.
And I wondered - for one instant - whether my little thrill had gone
through him. He was not a man of little thrills.
Then for a minute I was in misery. Of course I wanted to go too - he
shook my hand without a word - but how could I? They would never have
me, a branded jailbird, in the Imperial Yeomanry! Raffles burst out
laughing; he had been looking very hard at me for about three seconds.
"You rabbit," he cried, "even to think of it! We might as well offer
ourselves to the Metropolitan Police Force. No, Bunny, we go out to
the Cape on our own, and that's where we enlist. One of these
regiments of irregular horse is the thing for us; you spent part of
your pretty penny on horse-flesh, I believe, and you remember how I
rode in the bush! We're the very men for them, Bunny, and they won't
ask to see our birthmarks out there. I don't think even my hoary locks
would put them off, but it would be too conspicuous in the ranks."
Our landlady first wept on hearing our determination, and then longed
to have the pulling of certain whiskers (with the tongs, and they
should be red-hot); but from that day, and for as many as were left to
us, the good soul made more of us than ever. Not that she was at all
surprised; dear brave gentlemen who could look for burglars on their
bicycles at dead of night, it was only what you might expect of them,
bless their lion hearts. I wanted to wink at Raffles, but he would not
catch my eye. He was a ginger-headed Raffles by the end of January,
and it was extraordinary what a difference it made. His most elaborate
disguises had not been more effectual than this simple expedient, and,
with khaki to complete the subdual of his individuality, he had every
hope of escaping recognition in the field. The man he dreaded was the
officer he had known in old days; there were ever so many of him at the
Front; and it was to minimize this risk that we went out second-class
at the beginning of February.
It was a weeping day, a day in a shroud, cold as clay, yet for that
very reason an ideal day upon which to leave England for the sunny
Front. Yet my heart was heavy as I looked my last at her; it was heavy
as the raw, thick air, until Raffles came and leant upon the rail at my
"I know what you are thinking, and you've got to stop," said he. "It's
on the knees of the gods, Bunny, whether we do or we don't, and
thinking won't make us see over their shoulders."
Now I made as bad a soldier (except at heart) as Raffles made a good
one, and I could not say a harder thing of myself. My ignorance of
matters military was up to that time unfathomable, and is still
profound. I was always a fool with horses, though I did not think so
at one time, and I had never been any good with a gun. The average
Tommy may be my intellectual inferior, but he must know some part of
his work better than I ever knew any of mine. I never even learnt to
be killed. I do not mean that I ever ran away. The South African
Field Force might have been strengthened if I had.
The foregoing remarks do not express a pose affected out of superiority
to the usual spirit of the conquering hero, for no man was keener on
the war than I, before I went to it. But one can only write with gusto
of events (like that little affair at Surbiton) in which one has
acquitted oneself without discredit, and I cannot say that of my part
in the war, of which I now loathe the thought for other reasons. The
battlefield was no place for me, and neither was the camp. My
ineptitude made me the butt of the looting, cursing, swash-buckling lot
who formed the very irregular squadron which we joined; and it would
have gone hard with me but for Raffles, who was soon the darling devil
of them all, but never more loyally my friend. Your fireside
fire-eater does not think of these things. He imagines all the
fighting to be with the enemy. He will probably be horrified to hear
that men can detest each other as cordially in khaki as in any other
wear, and with a virulence seldom inspired by the bearded dead-shot in
the opposite trench. To the fireside fire-eater, therefore (for you
have seen me one myself), I dedicate the story of Corporal Connal,
Captain Bellingham, the General, Raffles, and myself.
I must be vague, for obvious reasons. The troop is fighting as I
write; you will soon hear why I am not; but neither is Raffles, nor
Corporal Connal. They are fighting as well as ever, those other
hard-living, harder-dying sons of all soils; but I am not going to say
where it was that we fought with them. I believe that no body of men
of equal size has done half so much heroic work. But they had got
themselves a bad name off the field, so to speak; and I am not going to
make it worse by saddling them before the world with Raffles and
myself, and that ruffian Connal.
The fellow was a mongrel type, a Glasgow Irishman by birth and
upbringing, but he had been in South Africa for years, and he
certainly knew the country very well. This circumstance, coupled with
the fact that he was a very handy man with horses, as all colonists
are, had procured him the first small step from the ranks which
facilitates bullying if a man be a bully by nature, and is physically
fitted to be a successful one. Connal was a hulking ruffian, and in me
had ideal game. The brute was offensive to me from the hour I joined.
The details are of no importance, but I stood up to him at first in
words, and finally for a few seconds on my feet. Then I went down like
an ox, and Raffles came out of his tent. Their fight lasted twenty
minutes, and Raffles was marked, but the net result was dreadfully
conventional, for the bully was a bully no more.
But I began gradually to suspect that he was something worse. All this
time we were fighting every day, or so it seems when I look back.
Never a great engagement, and yet never a day when we were wholly out
of touch with the enemy. I had thus several opportunities of watching
the other enemy under fire, and had almost convinced myself of the
systematic harmlessness of his own shooting, when a more glaring
One night three troops of our squadron were ordered to a certain point
whither they had patrolled the previous week; but our own particular
troop was to stay behind, and in charge of no other than the villanous
corporal, both our officer and sergeant having gone into hospital with
enteric. Our detention, however, was very temporary, and Connal would
seem to have received the usual vague orders to proceed in the early
morning to the place where the other three companies had camped. It
appeared that we were to form an escort to two squadron-wagons
containing kits, provisions, and ammunition.
Before daylight Connal had reported his departure to the commanding
officer, and we passed the outposts at gray dawn. Now, though I was
perhaps the least observant person in the troop, I was not the least
wideawake where Corporal Connal was concerned, and it struck me at once
that we were heading in the wrong direction. My reasons are not
material, but as a matter of fact our last week's patrol had pushed its
khaki tentacles both east and west; and eastward they had met with
resistance so determined as to compel them to retire; yet it was
eastward that we were travelling now. I at once spurred alongside
Raffles, as he rode, bronzed and bearded, with warworn wide-awake over
eyes grown keen as a hawk's, and a cutty-pipe sticking straight out
from his front teeth. I can see him now, so gaunt and grim and
debonair, yet already with much of the nonsense gone out of him, though
I thought he only smiled on my misgivings.
"Did he get the instructions, Bunny, or did we? Very well, then; give
the devil a chance."
There was nothing further to be said, but I felt more crushed than
convinced; so we jogged along into broad daylight, until Raffles
himself gave a whistle of surprise.
"A white flag, Bunny, by all my gods!"
I could not see it; he had the longest sight in all our squadron; but
in a little the fluttering emblem, which had gained such a sinister
significance in most of our eyes, was patent even to mine. A little
longer, and the shaggy Boer was in our midst upon his shaggy pony, with
a half-scared, half-incredulous look in his deep-set eyes. He was on
his way to our lines with some missive, and had little enough to say to
us, though frivolous and flippant questions were showered upon him from